Military medical team arrives at Maine hospital to assist with COVID response
Sun Journal February 2, 2022
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LEWISTON, Maine (Tribune News Service) — A team of military medical personnel arrived at Central Maine Medical Center over the weekend, where they'll be assisting providers for at least the next month under a federal COVID-19 response program.
Gov. Janet Mills announced last week that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had approved her request on behalf of the Lewiston hospital for additional clinical support.
All 20 clinicians came to Maine by way of Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where they are members of the 96th Medical Group. They include: four physicians, five critical care nurses, five medical surgical nurses, one emergency room nurse, two EMT-certified medical technicians, two respiratory technicians and one administrative lead, according to Maj. Jonathan Flores, a critical care nurse and the officer-in-charge.
"Since we've partnered with the hospital, we have felt welcomed by the staff and are happy to work with this great team of medical professionals to ensure that we meet the needs of the local community during this pandemic," Flores said at a news conference Tuesday morning at CMMC.
"The impact of this team is great for our community," Kris Chaisson, CMMC's vice president of nursing and patient care services, said Tuesday.
The clinicians will be "strategically placed throughout the organization" to help namely with increasing bed capacity, she said.
At least four nurses will work on both the day and night shifts in the COVID unit and four nurses will go to critical care units.
"Because (of) our limited capacity, some patients are staying a little longer than we want in the (Emergency Department)," as is happening at hospitals across the country, Chaisson said.
"So, this will provide us a chance to take care of everybody upstairs," she said.
CMMC will also be able to open a monoclonal antibody treatment clinic with help from the federal team, a first for the area, according to Chaisson.
Flores said he "feels good" about the mission because "I'm here to help the citizens in the community."
"The first part of our Air Force (Airman's Creed), it says 'I'm an American Airman. I have answered my nation's call.' So, my team, a group of nurses, docs, med techs and RTs, have answered our nation's call here in Lewiston, Maine," Flores said.
The news of their arrival was a huge relief for hospital staff, Chaisson said.
"They're excited, relieved and grateful for the presence of any help we've gotten throughout the pandemic," she said. "Staff have been working really hard. They're all pulling extra shifts."
Capt. Michael Robbins, a critical care nurse, could see how relieved staff were as his team got situated at the hospital over the weekend.
"This go-round seems like (we) have a lot of lessons learned from the COVID pandemic and just our mission as a whole, it seems that this has become much more streamlined, more efficient and we're just excited to be here in Maine and fighting this invisible enemy together," Robbins said in footage recorded over the weekend and provided by the U.S. Department of Defense.
"I would say there's a bit of a mix of emotions, nervousness because we don't necessarily know what to expect but also an excitement to know that we've been called upon to help out and to be able to give back to the community also," Senior Airman Michal Fryar, a respiratory therapist, said in the DOD footage.
The mission will bring new experiences — and not just COVID-related ones: Like many other members of the federal team, this is Robbins' and Fryar's first time in Maine.
"I've never experienced anywhere this cold, so that's been fun," Fryar said.
This is the second team of federally contracted clinicians to provide assistance to the Lewiston hospital since the pandemic began.
A group of four nurses and pharmacists helped administer COVID vaccines at the high-volume site at the Auburn Mall. Those clinicians arrived in Lewiston on Jan. 10 and departed last week.
A federal ambulance team, one of nine in the state, has been assisting with nonemergency patient transfers at CMMC since December. FEMA recently approved Mills' request to extend their service in Maine.
More than 200 members of the Maine National Guard have been deployed on COVID response orders at health care facilities throughout the state since late last year. There are at least 20 Guardsmen stationed at CMMC who are scheduled to remain there through the end of the month.
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